A seven-year drought was snapped for the Jamestown High School girls basketball team last season and while head coach Andy Skunberg isn't counting his chickens before they hatch, the Jays have the potential to be right back where they ended up last March.
"We have an experienced team coming back," Skunberg said. "We have a lot of players who played last year coming back this year so hopefully that will get us off to a good start. We have some good senior leadership and players who have had two to three years of experience already. Hopefully, we'll be a well-rounded team."
The Blue Jays wound up at the Class A state tournament last March, the team's first since 2014. The Jays put up a valiant effort against the top-seeded Fargo Davies team but ended up losing to eventual state runners-up 56-46 in the state quarterfinals. The Jays had beat out Mandan in the state-qualifying game to advance to the tournament.
Jamestown will be without last year's Class A second-team all-stater Grace Hegerle. The Jays also lost Jordan Finck and Kaylee Panchot to graduation and will be without junior Breanna Oettle due to an ACL tear.
Hegerle racked up per-game averages of 12.8 points and 5.3 rebounds to go along with 16 blocked shots. The 5-foot-10 forward knocked down 41% from the field and was shooting 77% from the line en route to her 295 season points.
While Hegerle's name and athleticism at the 2 and 3 spots will be missed, the Jays will be returning five names who were shooting at least 40% from the field.
Junior Ella Falk racked up 134 assists across her 24 games played. Falk led the West Region in total assists both as a sophomore and freshman tallying 232 over 46 matchups. Senior Annie Nabwe made a big splash for the Blue Jays in all facets of the game leading the team in scoring (324 points), shooting (53%), rebounding (239), turnovers (81) and steals (73).
Nabwe and Falk were both named to the All-WDA team last season.
In addition to Nabwe and Falk, the Jays will return letter winners Katie Trumbauer, Hunter Petersen and Katie Falk. Juniors Rylee Joseph and Haylie Hakanson are also going to be back in the mix. Skunberg said having some balance at all five spots and strong team chemistry will hopefully put the Jays ahead of the Hoopster's sixth-place prediction.
"Hopefully when people come to games, they'll see us playing as a team," Skunberg said. "Every night we could have a different high scorer or a different top rebounder. We'll be pretty diverse and we won't need to rely on just one or two girls. Every night, someone could step up and get hot and we can win in a lot of different ways like that."
While the Jays have most of the tools they had last year, another trip to State won't be an easy feat.
2021 state champions Bismarck Century, Bismarck High and Bismarck Legacy were predicted to round out the WDA's top-three. Minot and Mandan were picked to finish in fourth and fifth. 2021 WDA runner-up Watford City was picked to finish seventh.
"Century is always good, they always reload; Legacy is always well coached so they'll be good, and Minot has a lot of good younger girls coming up," Skunberg said. "It's the WDA. There could easily be five to six teams going for the top four spots. As a team, we just have to be ready for that and bring it every night.
"This time of year kind of gets the blood flowing a little bit. We're anxious to get going and ready for the long grind."